Postdoctoral fellow connects humanities scholarship to local communities
Steven Wang | Postdoctoral Researcher | Hall Center for the Humanities
Storytelling has been a part of Steven Wang’s career since the beginning.
“I was actually choosing between a tenure-track offer and the postdoc offer here at KU. I ended up choosing this one because this kind of public humanities commitment is really something core to my scholarship, and I feel passionate about it,” he said.
Now a postdoctoral fellow at KU’s Hall Center for the Humanities, Wang initially wanted to be a journalist in his home country. He began considering academia as a way to dig deeper into the stories that interested him.
“Hong Kong is a very fast-paced kind of place,” he said. “A lot of times I wanted to do this kind of journalism work, but I felt like there was not enough time for me to really get into the topic I was writing about. Even in long-form journalism, you still have a deadline.”
Wang earned a doctorate in communication studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he studied representation of queer communities in mass media. Underrepresented groups often organize themselves and promote visibility in novel ways when their stories are ignored or misrepresented in traditional communication channels. Wang examined strategies queer communities used both in China and the Midwest to overcome these challenges.
Now he gets to work with community partners through the Hall Center’s Stories for All initiative.
“I didn’t even know this kind of position existed before I applied. I'm like, ‘Oh, this is perfect for me. Literally every single item in the job is applicable to me,’” he said. “And KU has strong humanities programs.”
Funded by a $1.4 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Stories for All includes about 50 community partners throughout northeast Kansas. These partners often start by hosting in-person events, such as talks or spoken-word poetry performances, where community members can share their stories with one another. These narratives haven’t always been preserved for future generations, but Stories for All is helping community groups gather marginalized and suppressed histories, interconnect them, and share them widely through digital media.
“When you transition that to a digital presence, there’s a lot of ethical and logistical issues coming to bear, so we are in the process of navigating that as well,” Wang said. “We are working with them to digitize some of their work to document the history of queer narratives.”
The Stories for All website includes a directory of community partner projects and provides information about how prospective partners can join.
“We also have resources for community partners to think about how they want to deal with the stories they collect,” Wang said.
Wang is considering multiple paths after his position ends. He said his work with Stories for All has reaffirmed his interest in how public humanities is put into practice.
“I see people, especially queer people, leave their life here and then come back and weave community together,” he said. “All these things make me think of what kind of scholar I want to be.”